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A Step-By-Step Guide To Dramatically Increasing The Amount You Read

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Person reading with coffee

When a student at Columbia University asked Warren Buffett about the best way to prepare for a career in investing, he gave some rather startling advice:

Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.

Buffett is one of, if not the greatest investor in history. He’s amassed a fortune through careful, intelligent wealth management. And yet his advice was not primarily to study the stock market, intern on Wall Street, or take monetary risks.

His advice for success is simple: read.

In almost every discipline, reading is one of the few keys to advancement. It allows you to expand your mind, stand on the shoulders of giants, and be mentored by the greatest people in history. Success and reading go hand in hand.

But reading a significant amount can be difficult, especially if you’ve never spent much time doing it.

So how can you increase the amount you read?

Here are 5 simple steps to dramatically expand the amount of reading you do (without killing yourself).

Step #1: Create A Reading Ritual

Reading during break

It’s not enough to simply say, “I’m going to start reading more!” To dramatically increase the number of books you read every year, you need to implement a strategic reading ritual into your life. This ritual will help you know when to read, approximately how much to read, and give you a sense of how much you’ll read in a given time period.

The ritual should have several elements to it:

  • A specific time. The best way to increase the your literature intake is to set a specific time when you’ll read. This could be immediately after you get home from work, during your lunch break, first thing in the morning, or before you go to bed. Having a set time allows you to know that you’ll read at least a small amount every day.
  • A minimum amount. Your ritual should also include a minimum amount of reading. You could do this based on pages or time read, with time read probably being your best option because of differing book sizes and complexity. Ideally, you should read for at least 15 minutes, but you can always start smaller if you find this too difficult.

These small steps may not seem like much, but over the course of a single year they lead to an astonishing amount of reading.

In his book The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod says this:

Look at it this way. If you quantify that, reading just 10 pages a day will average 3,650 pages a year, which equates to approximately eighteen 200-page personal development/ self-improvement books! Let me ask you, if you read 18 personal development books in the next 12 months, do you think you will be more knowledgeable, capable and confident— a new & improved you? Absolutely!

Rituals are compounding and cumulative. By creating a small ritual of daily reading, you can dramatically improve yourself over the course of a year and skyrocket the amount you read.

Step #2: Plan Your Reading List

plan list

If you don’t plan your reading list in advance, there’s a good chance you’ll either wander randomly from book to book or simply not read at all. Planning out the books you’ll read keeps you on track, gives you a specific goal, and keeps you moving forward.

When planning your reading list, consider including books from a variety of genres, including:

  • Personal development
  • History
  • Social issues
  • Biographies of great leaders
  • Fiction

If there is a particular subject in which you want to increase your expertise, weight your list more heavily with those books. For example, if you want to grow in time management, include books by Stephen Covey, David Allen, Brian Tracy, and other experts in the field.

One piece of advice on your list: don’t be afraid to alter it. It isn’t a sacred document written in stone. The list is meant to serve you. If you find you hate a book within the first 20 pages, move on to the next book.

Neil Pasricha puts it helpfully:

It’s one thing to quit reading a book and feel bad about it. It’s another to quit a book and feel proud of it. All you have to do is change your mindset. Just say, “Phew! Now I’ve finally ditched this brick to make room for that gem I’m about to read next.”

Keep a running list of books that interest you. If you’re at a bookstore, snap photos of books and store them in Evernote for future reference. If one books disappoints you, consult your list and move on to the next.

Step #3: Mark Up The Books As You Read

book notes

Books are meant to be sources of knowledge, not relics to be preserved. One of the most effective ways to absorb what you’re reading is to mark up your books. Underline, take notes, mark pages for future reference, etc.

Tim Ferriss goes so far as to create an index system for every book he reads. Why? He says:

Simple but effective note taking enables me to:

  • Review book highlights in less than 10 minutes
  • Connect scattered notes on a single theme in 10 minutes that would otherwise require dozens of hours
  • Contact and connect mentors with relevant questions and help I can offer
  • Impose structure on information for increased retention and recall

Taking notes forces you to grapple with what you’re reading instead of simply skimming. You probably won’t take notes while reading a novel but if you’re reading about goal setting, there will be all sorts of things you want to remember. Note taking allows you to do that.

Taking notes also allows you to more effectively implement what you learn. You’re not just after more information. You’re pursuing a better life.

This is where an ereader like the Kindle can be helpful. The Kindle saves all your highlights, allowing you to easily access them at a later date. You can also search all your highlights based on keywords, which can help you quickly find a quote.

Step #4: Listen To Books

listening to an audiobook

Listening to books isn’t cheating. Your goal is to learn as much as possible, not reach an arbitrary goal that only includes reading. Listening to books is a fantastic way to make progress on your reading goals when you’re too tired to read or in the car or on the subway.

Some great apps for listening to books include:

Pro tip: Your brain can process speech must faster than can people can speak. This means you can listen to audiobooks on 1.5x, 2x, or even 2.5x (if you’re feeling really adventurous) speed. This significantly cuts down the time it takes to listen to a book. A book that normally takes ten hours to listen to can be cut down to five.

Step #5: Fill Your Spare Moments With Reading

Woman reading

Many people assume they need to have large blocks of uninterrupted reading time to make significant progress on books. This isn’t true. By filling your small, spare moments with reading, you can make a surprising dent in any book.

Every day is filled with dozens of tiny cracks and crevasses – moments when you don’t have anything to do. Sitting in traffic. Riding the subway. Waiting for an appointment. 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there.

In those minutes, instead of hopping on social media, open a book. You can carry a physical book with you or use the Kindle app on your phone.

Again, to quote Neil Pasricha:

In a way, it’s like the 10,000 steps rule. Walk around the grocery store, park at the back of the lot, chase your kids around the house, and bam — 10,000 steps.

It’s the same with reading…When do I read now? All the time. A few pages here. A few pages there. I have a book in my bag at all times. In general I read nonfiction in the mornings, when my mind is in active learning mode, and fiction at night before bed, when my mind needs an escape. Slipping pages into all the corners of the day adds up.

Small bits of reading add up very quickly. In the moment, they seem insignificant, but the cumulative effect is startling.

Also, if you grow in your speed of reading, you can also improve the amount you can read in a small bit of time.

Create Extraordinary Results

Very few people are able to create extraordinary results apart from extraordinary amounts of reading. The simple truth is that we all need to learn from those who have gone before us. We don’t have enough inherent knowledge to reach the top.

But here’s the key point: extraordinary amounts of reading does not require extraordinary amounts of effort.

By creating a system that allows you to read a small amount every day, you read a staggering number of books.

It’s a small ritual that results in exponential gains.

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Posted by Curtis McHale  | August 21, 2017 at 10:41AM | Reply

I think that more than a ritual, reading should be a task in the work week (day for me) for everyone. I start my morning with an hour of reading.

Another thing is to be highly careful with ‘filling all your spare moments with reading’. There is much to be said for being bored. Leaving that gap in the grocery line just as boring is it is without something to distract you.

Posted by Koen  | August 15, 2017 at 3:20PM | Reply

Tx for your great article, it’s a continuous improvement for me but reading is great indeed…

One question though:
If I hop on Social Media and I read dozens of interesting articles iso books, that is useful reading as well, isn’t it?

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